SUPERMAN (THE SERIAL) (directors: Spencer Gordon Bennet/Thomas Carr; screenwriters: Arthur Hoerl/Lewis Clay/Royal Cole/George H. Plympton/Joseph F. Poland; cinematographer: Ira H. Morgan; editor: Earl Turner; music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff; cast: Kirk Alyn (Superman/Clark Kent), Noel Neill (Lois Lane), Carol Forman (Spider Lady), Tommy Bond (Jimmy Olsen), Pierre Watkin (Perry White), Charles Quigley (Dr. Hackett), Forrest Taylor (Prof. Leeds) Stephen Carr (Morgan), Frank Lackteen (Hawkins, the stoolie), Nelson Leigh (Jor-El, father of Superman), Luana Walters (Lara, mother of Superman), Robert Barron (Ro-Zon, leader of Krypton), Ed Cassidy (Ethan Kent), Virginia Carroll (Martha Kent); Runtime: 249; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Katzman; Warner Home Video; 1948)
“One of the best of the cliffhanger serials.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
One of the best of the cliffhanger serials (if not, indeed, the best); it shows all 15-chapters that used to play before the double-features on Saturday matinees back in the day. It’s action-packed as codirected by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr and scripted from a team of writers who based it on the Superman radio shows (which were based on the Action comic book series). Former B-film star Kirk Alyn is an engaging and athletic Superman; he came before George Reeves and Christopher Reeve to set the standard for the role. The rest of the cast are not that polished but most get the job done by playing within their limits. Noel Neill (recreated the role for 1950s TV) makes for a feisty and rather dumb ace reporter, Lois Lane, who unintentionally ends up helping the villains more than she does Superman. Carol Forman plays the sinister arch-villain Spider Lady who plans to bring Superman down with a new weapon called the relativity reducer ray and thereby control the planet. Her performance was too stiff and joyless for what was needed, but the film makes up for her weak performance by providing plenty of action whenever she shows her masked face. Cub reporter Jimmy Olsen plays the good-natured dolt to perfection, while Pierre Watkin is fine as Perry White the harried editor of the Daily Planet. Superman is animated while in flight, which I thought was very well done. One has to remember this black and white film comes way before the advances in special effects due to computers.
In these nailbiting episodes, with titles such as “Superman Comes to Earth” and “A Job for Superman,” we trace Superman’s origins from the doomed planet Krypton, his scientist father Jor-El warning the unresponsive leaders to evacuate because of the imminent dangers of Krypton being destroyed by the natural evolution that can’t be prevented, the space ship venture as an infant for the future Superman to safety on Earth after the mineral rich Krypton is pulled toward the sun and explodes, and Krypton’s only survivor being adopted by the Kents (Virginia Carroll & Ed Cassidy), Kansas farmers, who name their foster son Clark. In subsequent chapters we follow the mild-mannered Clark Kent getting a reporter’s job in Metropolis on the Daily Planet, which he considers a good place to keep an eye on world affairs. There are a series of derring-do heroics by the Man of Steel that take him “up, up and away” and make him the most feared and respected crime fighter in the world. When the narrator says “This looks like a job for Superman,” we find Superman doing such heroic things as preventing a train wreck, rescuing Lois from a mine cave-in, stopping bank robbers, foiling a prison break and so on. The main plot has to do with the Spider Lady, “the queen of the underworld,” discovering Superman’s one weakness is from Kryptonite, a mineral found in a meteorite that fell on Earth, which her henchmen stole from the Metropolis Museum in order to stop Superman from preventing her from controlling the world with the most deadly weapon in the world–the reducer ray. Superman battles the villains and in the end proves to be an able defender of “Truth, Justice and the American way.”
A fun serial film that gives one a chance to look back at a more innocent time, where there was a gee-whiz innocence to that age that might seem refreshing to some.
REVIEWED ON 7/3/2006 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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